Three years and counting. I’ve kept this blog going for three years, which is a miracle for me. As I’ve mentioned many times, I struggle finding things to post. It isn’t because I have nothing to say; it’s finding something relevant to share in a sea of bloggers who think they do...and they don’t hesitate to tell you about it. There are many things I’d like to address and issues I would love to share that are important to me, however I think I’m a coward. As strongly as I feel about some things, there are those who are just as passionate and would argue the opposite. Maybe someday I will dip my toes in a controversial blog, but right now I’m not ready for it.
Two events controlled a large part of the past year: my younger daughter’s wedding and the publication of my third book. This year I will see my older daughter get married. As for anything else that might be in the mix for 2015…one trip is planned, another is in the works; also there’s a manuscript I finished about fifteen years ago that needs tidying a bit. I’ve finally decided to submit it to some literary agents. Could it be the fourth book? I’ve no idea. I do have plans to start writing another book (still working on the outline), but the post-publication requirements for my current book have been overwhelming and time consuming. Short stories continue and I’ll share them here, as well…some finished, some in the works.
Last January, I included a photo of a fortune cookie “fortune” for my post that month. I thought I would do the same this year. “You have a charming way with words and should write a book.” I love this one and it made me smile when I opened it…seemed appropriate to use now.
Finally, speaking of my latest book, why not share an excerpt here? Daniel’s Esperanza has received some nice reviews and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. It can be found at all of the usual places in paperback and the Kindle version. Buy it, read it and let me know what you think. As always, copyright applies and all of my work has been registered with the US Copyright Office.
Happy new year to all!
By Veronica Randolph Batterson
copyright ©Veronica Randolph Batterson
He breathed deeply and let the cold air fill his lungs. The windows were rolled down on the old pickup truck and it rejuvenated him. He’d endured a cold winter in northern New Mexico and Mother Nature didn’t seem too eager to let spring take over. The wind hit Daniel in the face and made him see things for what they were. He knew the dream he’d had couldn’t hurt him. But it was his recurring nightmare. All of it based on reality that Daniel had lived not too long ago, but escaped with help. His eyes watered, from the memories and the cold air, and he wiped the wetness on the back of his sleeve, driving on.
Daniel drove down the dirt road and heard only the hum of the engine and the sound of tires crunching over thawing ice puddles and gravel. He was an interruption to the peaceful quiet of night but didn’t care. Daniel knew exactly where he was going and it helped him clear his head. It was the same place he drove to every time he felt troubled about something.
The headlights found the side road he was searching for and he turned left. He didn’t brake soon enough and the sudden change in speed caused the back tires to skid. But he straightened the truck sharply and found the road again. Daniel knew within a couple of weeks all of the snow and ice would turn to a thawed mess. The side road might not even be accessible until after the thaws. Last spring, he’d walked up the road, driving as far as he could and then parked just before the flooded area. It had taken longer to walk the mesa but he felt better for it. It was too cold and slippery to do that now.
The truck inched along. The road was narrow and on an incline so Daniel maneuvered carefully, trying not to lose control and hit any ice. He kept his eyes on the road and was surprised when something small darted across in front of him. “I must not be the only one having trouble sleeping,” he mumbled, driving along, hoping he didn’t encounter whatever had stirred that critter from its slumber.
He finally reached his destination. Slowing the truck to a stop, Daniel grabbed his flashlight and got out of the vehicle. Just a short distance from the road stood the ruins of an ancient kiva. The Anasazi used kivas for spiritual rituals and this one had been abandoned long ago. Even though no longer in use, Daniel knew better than to do anything that might damage it further. It was considered sacred and he respected the customs of the people he had gotten to know over the last three years.
The kiva was located on the ten thousand acres he now called home, but was close to the Indian reservation nearby. Once when sitting up here meditating his first summer, he felt a presence behind him. He had turned quickly but saw nothing. Thinking it was the late afternoon shadows playing tricks on him, he turned around only to hear a rustling sound to his right. Looking, he didn’t see anything. Then he heard the laugh and turned to see a boy standing in front of him.
Daniel jumped up at the sight, losing his balance and falling backward. That had made the boy laugh even harder. The intruder was shorter than Daniel and his skin was dark. He wore clothing that looked too large for him, probably hand-me-downs, and Daniel guessed the kid was from the reservation. He also noticed the boy walked with a limp.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on people,” Daniel had said.
“You have yellow hair,” the boy replied, laughing, then turned around and ran.
It wasn’t long after the encounter that Daniel started seeing the boy around more. He’d show up while Daniel was working with the horses or out in the hay fields. He was always watching Daniel but seemed afraid or too shy to approach him. There was always a smile on his face and his animated eyes held mischief. It took a long time for Daniel to coax a name from him but eventually the boy blurted, “You can call me Joe”.
“Nice to meet you, ‘You can call me Joe’,” Daniel said, smiling.
That had made the boy laugh into the wind. From that point on, Joe was at Daniel’s side whenever he was able. Curious and energetic, he was always asking questions and doing things to help. Joe took particular interest in Bob, the rescued mixed-breed dog that lived with Daniel. It was easy to like Bob, but Joe seemed fascinated with the animal, as if he’d never been around a dog before. Daniel knew otherwise, as dogs were allowed to roam all over the reservation.
The sound of scratching brought Daniel back to the present. He held up the flashlight, straining his eyes to see what might be in its cast of light. He immediately thought of Joe, but knew he wouldn’t have been around at this time of the night. Plus, it was too cold for any of those kids to be out. It was too cold for him, too, he thought, shivering. He wasn’t sure if it was the cold or if the unknown sound caused the goose bumps that were creeping down his arms. Probably nothing, he reasoned as he lowered the light.
Most of his visits to this special place were during the daylight hours, but he had made the trip in the middle of the night before. He’d had the nightmare and felt the need to come here. It probably wasn’t the wisest choice he’d ever made, coming up here after dark. There were wild animals roaming the ranch but the need for air and a clear head were greater than the fear of wildlife encounters.
It was always the same. In his dream, he was running from the devil. But the devil kept morphing into the bastard Daniel had grown up fearing. His father’s face grew closer in the dream as Daniel struggled to run away from it. He’d spent the first fifteen years of his life dodging fists his father threw in alcoholic rages and mean abusiveness. Daniel had endured broken ribs, split lips, blackened eyes, belt whelps and emergency surgery from a fall down the stairs. The devil had pushed him. Of course, the story told to the hospital staff was he’d fallen.
His mother hadn’t been any better. Mental illness controlled her life and she refused treatment for it. Fury consumed her most days, while fantasy mingled with reality. Reality slipped farther away each day. She usually thought Daniel had deserved whatever punch her husband doled out, as she worshipped the ground the man walked on. But the old man was known to abuse her as well. She died three years ago from an overdose of sleeping pills. Daniel couldn’t muster enough sympathy to shed a tear.
He was fifteen years old when his mother died. The funeral had been held in the morning and very few people attended. His family didn’t have many friends and the handful of people who gave their respects probably did so out of guilt and concern for him. They knew what he’d endured and had done nothing about it. The neighbors could hear the shouting and cursing from both his parents, but turned deaf ears to it. Sounds of shattered glass and the recurring slaps rang out in the silence of the night but help never came. People pretended his life was as good as theirs. It was easier and less messy that way. When they would see his bloody nose or black eye, they’d look the other way, pretending they hadn’t. He grew to resent it.
After the funeral, Daniel remembered returning home to an empty house. His father had gone to the nearest bar. Daniel was thankful he was an only child because he figured he could handle his father’s meanness. He didn’t think he could have put up with a brother or sister getting the same treatment. It would have driven him to do something that might have landed him in prison.
He had grown tall and strong. It would take very little to fight back as his father’s form was degenerating from alcoholic consumption, his muscles wasting away. One punch from Daniel would have sent his old man across the room, but fighting was something he found distasteful. He refused the temptation, promising himself that he wouldn’t follow that path. So he took everything that was thrown at him. But he thought it probably would’ve been different if there had been a sibling to protect.
And something about that day was different. He was tired. Tired of walking on eggshells, worrying if he coughed a certain way that it would send his father into a blind rage. He was tired of being afraid and tired of feeling worthless. He was tired of being yelled at and knocked around. And he was tired of never getting a kind word or feeling the love you’re supposed to get from a parent.
His eyes had burned from the tears that fell. He wasn’t sad for the loss of his mother. He was sad because of life. It had given him a raw deal and he found nothing he wished to live for. Daniel remembered the pets he’d tried to have over the years. There had been a puppy here or there when he was young. The joy those squirming little bodies gave his heart were the happiest times he could remember. But they always seemed to disappear. He’d get up for school or come home in the afternoon, and his mother would make some excuse or another for their absence. When he was little, he never questioned why. It just made him sad and he’d cry himself to sleep over it at night, never stopping until his father would come into his room, slapping and punching him until he stopped crying.
The last dog he’d ever had died due to a kick his father gave him in the side. The puppy was playing with a ball and got in his father’s way. Daniel watched the devil kick the pup so hard that the little body slammed against the far wall and slumped to the floor. It didn’t move. The devil turned to Daniel and laughed, saying, “Next time he’ll know better.”
There was no next time. Daniel buried the dog in the back yard. It occurred to him then that his father was the reason he’d never kept a pet. He didn’t wish to know what kind of suffering the devil put the poor animals through, but he swore he’d never have another one. At least not while his father could harm it.
He heard the sound of his father’s car in the driveway. Daniel knew what would come and he didn’t think he could take anymore of it. He’d had enough and he needed to find a way to get out. He had a little bit of money saved, from part time jobs he had worked. It was money he had to hide from his father, lying that he didn’t have any so it wouldn’t be spent on alcohol. Maybe the money could buy him a bus ticket somewhere. Then he’d find a job doing something. It didn’t matter. Anything was better than the hell he’d been living in.
“Danny!” the devil yelled, stumbling through the door.
When he gave no answer, the devil yelled again, this time a little louder.
“When I call your name, you answer me, you hear?” his father spat, his shirttail pulled from his pants and his hair sticking up. His eyes were glazed and Daniel knew he was drunk. Daniel felt disgust for the man standing in front of him and his insides burned with hatred for the person he had the misfortune of knowing as his father.
“That’s how you want to play it? All right then. No boy of mine is going to treat me with disrespect,” the devil spat, reaching to unbuckle the belt fastened at his waist. “Bend over that couch so I can get you good.”
“No. Not anymore,” Daniel said quietly.
“You shut your goddamn mouth, you worthless piece of crap. Get over here now!” he screamed.
Daniel stood his ground. The devil’s eyes glowed with meanness. If he could wish for anything at the moment, it would’ve been for the old man to be struck dead right then and there.
“Boy, I’m warnin’ you. You better do as I say, or else,” the devil hissed.
“Or else what? Get a beating if I come over there or get one if I don’t. Why should I make it easy for you?” Daniel asked. He didn’t know where the words were coming from but it felt good to say them.
“Why, you, son of a bitch! Boy, I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget,” the old man spewed, lunging for Daniel, but missing and falling over the coffee table with a thud and landing on the floor.
Daniel looked at the pile of flesh and bones on the floor. The pile didn’t make an effort to move after the fall and Daniel assumed the devil had passed out. Seconds passed and there was a knock on the front door.
He made his way around his father’s form to the door and opened it. Standing there was an old friend of his mother’s, a man that Daniel only knew as ‘Charley’. Charley had always been referenced when his mother was fighting with his father. Whatever the argument, Charley was the savior his mother passed up to marry the devil. That was thrown in his old man’s face time and again, yet his sick mother couldn’t get enough of the man she did marry. It was something Daniel would never understand. If Charley was so great, why did she stay with, or better yet, marry an abusive man?
“Danny, is everything okay?” Charley asked.
“Don’t call me Danny. My name’s Daniel,” he replied. The devil always called him ‘Danny’ or ‘boy’, whichever suited his mood.
“I’m sorry. Daniel, then. Is everything okay?” Charley repeated.
“What do you think?” Daniel asked as a response. He stepped aside to let the man enter and both looked at the passed out man on the floor.
“He’s drunk, I guess,” Charley said.
“Yes, that’s his specialty,” Daniel said.
“Look, Daniel. We don’t have a lot of time, so listen to me carefully. I have a friend who’s willing to help you. I should’ve done this a long time ago,” he said, pulling something from his shirt pocket.
“I bought a bus ticket for you. To New Mexico. You’ll have a place to stay and work, even get your diploma. But the best part is you won’t be taking this anymore,” Charley said, nodding his head toward the lump on the ground.
“Why would you do this for me?” Daniel asked. His head was spinning. He had never been to New Mexico and knew very little about it.
“Because I’m tired of being a coward and it’s the right thing to do,” he replied, “no one should have to live like this.”
“I guess that doesn’t really answer my question,” Daniel said.
“I’m the reason your mother married that monster, plain and simple. She was a spiteful woman, God rest her soul. She got angry with me because I didn’t propose marriage when she thought I should’ve,” Charley explained, “so she met your father at a bar and eloped with him that very night. She was too proud to admit she’d made a mistake.”
“Even at the expense of her own son,” Daniel mumbled, looking at the ticket the man held.
“Well, I can’t even fathom someone cold enough to allow such things to happen to a child, but I know I won’t let it happen anymore. That’s why I’m here. Take this,” Charley said, handing the bus ticket to him.
“Won’t he come looking for me?” Daniel asked, pointing at the devil.
“Maybe, maybe not. In all likelihood, he won’t. Oh, he’ll be mad enough at first, but I’ll do everything in my power to keep your whereabouts a secret,” said Charley.
“But what if he contacts the police? Won’t they try to find me and bring me back? I couldn’t take that,” Daniel said.
“Your father wouldn’t chance the police finding out about the life of horrors he’s put you through if he involves them. So, I don’t think he will,” Charley said, extending the ticket to him again.
Daniel took the ticket from Charley. It was his way out and he was going to take it. He didn’t know what kind of life to expect but he knew with all of his heart it would be better than what he’d been dealt. His father snored loudly.
“Hurry, get moving. Go pack some clothes and I’ll wait here. I don’t want him to wake up before we go,” Charley said.
“We?” Daniel asked.
“I’m driving you to the bus station, and seeing firsthand that you get on that bus. I have a little money to help you, it’s not much, but I have some. Now, hurry,” the man said urgently.
Daniel packed his few belongings, the little bit of money he’d saved and left the only home he’d ever known. He took the money Charley handed him before boarding the bus.
“I’ll pay you back someday,” Daniel told the man.
“The only payback I need is to know you’ve found a happy life,” Charley replied.
Daniel nodded and asked suddenly, “Do you think I might have a dog at this new place?”
“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be a problem. As a matter of fact, you’ll find more than just dogs in your new life,” Charley smiled, patting him on the back. “Now, go. I’ll keep in touch.”
Daniel took the only photo he had of himself from his wallet and watched as the rolling hills of Virginia disappeared through the bus window. He glanced at the image of himself as a baby. He was in the arms of some unknown man and the black and white photograph was the only possession he’d grabbed, along with his clothes and money, as he’d quickly packed his bag. Daniel didn’t know why he’d taken the photo other than it gave him a history. Putting it away, he wondered just what his future held.
He’d never known any other place, had never even been to another state. He knew there was a big world out there to see but never thought he’d get the chance. Those chances had only been in his dreams. But in one sitting he would see a piece of the world as he made his way to New Mexico. He looked down at the sheet of paper Charley had given him. On it was the name of the person who would offer him a new life.
There it was again. The sound brought Daniel back to the present. It was a scraping noise, as if something was rubbing heavily against the ground, pawing even. It was closer to him, too. Daniel lifted the flashlight once again. The light reached the locked gate to the sanctuary’s land. Carefully, he climbed over the gate and softly dropped to the other side. Turning around, he raised the flashlight to the dark.
It took but seconds to see him. There in its full beautiful glory, not six feet from Daniel, stood the elusive ghost stallion. He was big for a Mustang, probably sixteen or seventeen hands, but he was definitely part of the wild horse bands of Mustangs that roamed freely on the ranch. Daniel had seen him before but only through binoculars. The stallion kept his band of mares “up in the trees”, an expression Daniel learned meant staying near a cluster or copse of trees, avoiding contact with humans. The horse probably mistrusted all humans due to the round-ups inflicted on many of the herds. It took a lot to win the trust of these incredible animals, but you first had to get close to them. It hadn’t been possible with this leader, at least not until now, Daniel thought.
The stallion stood its ground. He watched Daniel cautiously. His wide-set eyes were alert, his withers prominent. Daniel could see the animal’s breath being exhaled through its nostrils and imagined he heard it too. His mane and tail were full, and shades much darker than the dun colored coat. Then he noticed the dorsal stripe down the spine, a sign of ancient Spanish blood, further confirming to Daniel that he was facing Espíritu, the Spanish name for ghost or spirit. Daniel had seen that kind of stripe on only a few of the other horses on the ranch. The horse had been tagged by the Bureau of Land Management and the brand was visible on the animal’s neck.
©Veronica Randolph Batterson
Daniel's Esperanza can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble.com, Books A Million.com and many other online sites.